‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ Review
To watch 'The Place Beyond the Pines' is to observe characters making discoveries. Discoveries about their past, their environment, their heritage. When the revelations come they aren't met with gasps or dropped objects, but with an understanding, an acceptance that, yes, this is, indeed, the way things are.
While you'd swear with every bone in your body that this vast, rich, symbol-heavy tale was surely based on a thick doorstopper of a novel, the surprising fact remains that it is, actually, an original screenplay. It seems, though, a natural progression after the character portraiture of Derek Cianfrance's last film 'Blue Valentine.' This new one has the essence of 'Blue Valentine' but blown open far and wide.
'The Place Beyond the Pines' comes in three clearly defined acts. The first focuses on Ryan Gosling's outlaw/loner/biker/circus attraction (seriously). We meet him via an artfully drawn follow shot through a sleazy-yet-romantic (kinda) traveling carnival. He's a stunt motorcyclist and the very tattooed Gosling swaggering up to a steel sphere in which to do loop-the-loops may just make Tumblr explode.
His troupe is about to shove off to the next town when he connects with the woman he shacked up with last season (Eva Mendes) who – surprise – has a son. His son.
Gosling, a drifter, seizes upon this as the focus he feels his life needs, but despite some romantic moments, the realities of Mendes' current situation (such as living with her mother in her new boyfriend's house) darken things.
Gosling decides to turn to crime (naturally) and events lead us to act two, in which we meet Bradley Cooper, local hero of law enforcement.
He's not just a donut-muncher, he's a law degree-holding upper crust kid looking to make good, or so he thinks, even if it means butting heads with the Blue Line culture. We've seen the 'Serpico' scenario play out many times, but Cooper's arc is fascinating because we're never quite sure what his end game is, or whether his family has his true, best interests at heart.
Cooper's dark nights of the soul are tripped in part by the fact that he, too, has a young son, so it should come as no surprise that act three is set fifteen years later, when the sons of Gosling and Cooper meet and reconcile, in their way, with their family history.
Whether a film is an adaptation or not is rarely a mark of its quality, but 'The Place Beyond the Pines' comes readymade with a heft that seems as though it has been thoroughly discussed. The characters, the locations, the props all seem to glow, as if students have been banging out essays on them for years. From where I'm sitting, this can only be a good thing, and lends the film's soap opera-ish yarn a splash of the immortal.
What's unfortunate is that 'The Place Beyond the Pines' gets less and less interesting as the movie progresses. Still, the grand nature of the multiple generations and sprawling characters resonate. Cianfrance also makes excellent use place in different contexts – the ice cream shop, the cemetery, the winding road to the isolated woods. One could boil down the twists to a few lines of synopsis, but that isn't what the movie is really all about. While a tad melodramatic, it works wonderfully as an adaptation of a great American novel that never was.
'The Place Beyond the Pines' opens in theaters on March 29.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.